PHARR — Serving orange spice tea to mothers and daughters, Cynthia Markman said on Saturday that she was taken back to the time she served Countess Marigen Chinigo of Italy decades ago.
“As soon as I pour that pot I feel as if I am taken back to that traditional time,” Markman, a Rio Grande Valley native, said. “And it’s always a beautiful affair.”
That morning, Markman led a high tea etiquette lesson at the Mother’s Day Tea Brunch at the Vintage Tea House in Pharr.
Markman taught guests how to correctly stir milk and sugar into their tea — to move your teaspoon in a back and forth motion, similar to rowing a boat, to prevent from hitting the cup. She also debunked the popular presumption that it is proper to lift your pinkie while sipping tea. Guests were given decadent teacups with matching saucers and luncheon plates.
“Picking up your pinkie is usually done while drinking from a mug, or something heavier for balance,” Markman said. “Teacups aren’t that heavy, so you don’t have to lift your pinkie, but it’s funny when I see that sometimes.”
In her early 20s, Markman served as Chinigo’s governess, with the responsibility of assisting the countess in her everyday life. As Chinigo traveled the world, Markman said that they enjoyed every meal of the day together for the couple of years she was her governess to the elderly woman — including countless tea times.
The room was decked out in Victorian style pieces; tables were draped with delicately laced mesh cloth, the walls were covered with antique mirrors with bold bronze frames and bouquets of artificial flowers garmented the area.
Following the vintage theme, both the guests and furniture were seen wearing hats.
Laying on top of lamps, hanging on the edge of antique shelves and fixed on the heads of mothers and daughters, pastel tea hats of many patterns were scattered around the room. Markman donned a simple white tea party hat.
Standing in the middle of each table was a white three-tier platter; bagels with cream cheese and dill spread and chicken sandwiches were on the bottom tier, and on the second and top tier were strawberries and cranberry scones. Markman taught guests that it is proper to start eating the pastries at the bottom tier, then work up.
Besides the formalities of high tea, Markman said that the most important takeaway that she hoped mothers and daughters learned was the value of being poised.
“Sometimes when you go out for dinner, you tend to get casual,” Markman said. “But when you dress up for a tea time setting, you watch how you walk and watch how you talk. You become aware of the words you use and have pleasant conversations.
“It is about bringing back poise.”
Across the room, mothers and daughters were seen taking photos together and of each other. Sipping from the antique teacups and with the miniature scones, an appreciation for the dedication and love of mothers led the event.
Sarah Gutierrez was at the tea house with her mother, Alithia. Spending brunch at a tea house is not uncommon for the duo, but this was their first time at the Vintage Tea House.
“For me and for her, we both enjoy this activity,” Alithia said, who was wearing a pastel pink floppy hat. “It is a think that is not commonly experience, drinking high tea, but it is sort of a hobby for the both of us. We get a flashback to the past.”